The wonderful football freestyling world of Indi Cowie

The 22-year-old from Boca Raton is one of the worlds top women in freestyle soccer. Luis Miguel Echegaray meets her and watches open-mouthed

One of the first things that comes to mind, sitting across from Indi Cowie, whos dressed in her familiar colorful soccer attire, is how mature and focused she is. Then again, maybe its not such a surprise, considering all shes accomplished in the world of soccer freestyling and all by the age of 22.

Cowies impressive resum has seen her travel and perform across the world, and her talents have given her the opportunity to meet and connect with the biggest names in sport. Shes done half-time shows at Old Trafford in front of 76,000 people, and she took part Mia Hamms Celebrity Soccer Challenge with Kobe Bryant and Pep Guardiola.

Four years ago, as part of the video game campaign for EA Sports Fifa Street, Lionel Messi personally named her global freestyle champion, and in the same year she filmed her very own Champions League/PlayStation commercial as well as achieving a Guinness world record by juggling 102 times with her heel.

But Cowie says nothing topped meeting Ellen DeGeneres. She was so down-to-earth and super nice, says Cowie. She was just so sweet. It was one of the best moments of my life.

As arguably the worlds foremost female soccer freestyler, Cowie has made a habit of proving people wrong especially men.

Growing up, she played with the boys teams, in spite of all the negative comments. I would hear things like: You cant play in a guys team, youre a girl, you cant keep up with the speed of the play, remembers Cowie. And I would say to myself: Well, I have to play now, I have to show them that I can do it. That would always be my motivation.

Like the times shed read comments on freestyle forums where male bloggers would say a female freestyler could never do a three revolution where the foot does three full rotations around the ball while the ball is still in the air.

For years, the guys would say that a girls body wouldnt be able to do it because their hips were too wide or their legs were too slow, so I trained and trained and trained. The hard work paid off: last year Cowie became the first ever female freestyler to land the trick. We just have to keep pushing ourselves, no matter what. Even after all of this were still looked down upon.

The thing about Indi is that she is unbelievably determined, says her childhood friend Charlotte DeFazio. De Fazio, a writer and editor who lives in Manhattan, has known Cowie since they were toddlers, and believes her friends drive and work ethic has always been there, but the fact that she is a woman in a male-dominated sport gives her a bigger purpose to pursue success.

Its definitely a drive for her, as it is for many of us in our own industries, and I just think thats so inspiring and incredible.

Indi Armstrong Cowie was born in Boca Raton, Florida to Scottish parents. Her grandfather, Dick, had a short professional career with St Mirren, but Cowie says the football gene skipped a generation. My dad likes to say soccer was in his blood, but it didnt flow to his feet. After 10 months in Florida, the Cowies relocated to North Carolina and as soon as she could crawl, Cowie was attached to a soccer ball. She took the usual journey of being coached by her dad and playing for academy and travel teams but the place where she found her calling was freestyle.

I think I was 10 or 11, and I always enjoyed juggling, but then it got to a point where I just kept going and see how many I could do. She did 2,000. After some research on the different skills and tricks that could be achieved, the 11-year-old Indi discovered freestyling.

During a family trip to Scotland, Cowie begged her parents, Logan and Judith, to go to Leeds and see John Farnworth, one of the most respected names in football freestyling.

After seeing him, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life, she says. Thats when it became more than just a hobby.

She was also working on her career as a professional soccer player. When she was 14, the family moved back to Glasgow for a semester during her sophomore year, and she was accepted to play for Celtics womens academy. After graduating from high school a semester early, Cowie went to the University of North Carolina shes still there as an art major to play for their womens NCAA team, one of the most renowned squads in the country.

Sadly, during a preseason match, Cowie damaged her knee. There was no contact, and no collision, but the knee popped, and she knew something was wrong. Cowie suffered damage to her medial and anterior cruciate ligament, and it was enough to scar her chances of making it as a professional player. Before that injury I thought I could do both freestyle and pros, she says. In college, I would get up at 4am and do freestyle and then go to practice. So I was hoping to balance both.

She had to make a decision. Doctors said she had a 40% chance of re-injuring her knee if she played again. So she chose freestyle. Her rehab period was tough, and she worried about her future.

It was harder to recover mentally than it was physically, she says. I went from playing and freestyling every single minute of the day to doing nothing, and just to have that taken away it was really hard to just figure out who I was without a soccer ball.

Aside from her freestyling skills, Cowie, who is now sponsored by Nike, has an eye for entrepreneurship. Her digital presence, from Facebook to her YouTube channel to her Instagram page, plays a vital role in her work.

Social media can be a great tool, but there are also some negative aspects that can come with it, she says. So I realize I have a following and I have an influence on people, especially with young kids, so I think hard about what I post and how I post it focusing on things that can be inspiring and uplifting.

Cowie also posts about her everyday life, like the time she went to the Adele concert, or when she met Michelle Obama and Jessica Alba at FNV (Fruit n Veggies), an organization set up to promote healthy living. She has almost 800,000 fans on Facebook.

As we begin to wrap up our conversation, I get to witness just how good Cowie is.

I foolishly agree to a freestyle battle despite the embarrassment thats sure to come my way. We start things easy. I show her my repertoire: my usual one revolution, Ronaldinhos ball-balancing-on-the-head trick, my lifting it up with the use of only the knee. She seems impressed, and even cheers me on.

But then, its showtime.

Let me assure you: to be so close to a freestyler when they show you their arsenal of trickery is an unbelievable experience. When Cowie performs, you cant help but smile. Freestylers, like dancers, create poetry by expressing themselves through motion and in this scenario the ball is Cowies partner. No matter where she places it by her head, on the sole of her foot, her forehead you begin to realize that youre watching an artist at work. In this case, Indi Cowie is Misty Copeland with a soccer ball.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/oct/06/indi-cowie-freestyle-football